Episode 19- “Court Martial” and putting Jesus Christ on trial for murder

I love Starfleet. I really do. I like the idea of massive space governments that have to account for something as massive and unfathomable as the stars. I think that the idea of government in space might be the only redeemable thing about the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas might be one of the most incompetent story tellers for throwing half hours of diplomacy right at the climax of epics, but I think those moments are the only real interesting. I like the idea of a bureaucracy miring everyone and it might be the only scene that doesn’t have a fucking lightsaber in it (until “Revenge of the Sith” because, I don’t know, why the fuck not).

The thing is, Star Trek wants us to like Starfleet because the Enterprise is a part of it, and Kirk obstensibly serves it, but every time they show up, we inevitably have to view them as an enemy at worst, and a bureaucratic hurdle at best. It makes sense when it has to play off of Kirk, the loose cannon, but it doesn’t really give us much of a grounding as to what is normal in galactic diplomacy.

When you see this, you know it's a Starfleet episode...

This turns out to be one of my many problems with “Court Martial,” this entry into the Star Trek oeuvre. The Enterprise has weathered a fierce ion storm, and as the ship was on red alert, one crew member, former Academy teacher Finney, died when Kirk rightfully ejected an ion pod. When he presents this information at the Star Base, he is held in perjury when his word is presented against a computer record that makes Kirk’s actions look considerably more sinister.

The episode comes together around the trial of Kirk. There’s some foreplay about McCoy trying to pick up one of Kirk’s former lovers who is now a prosecutor in the captain’s case and Finney’s daughter pouting. There’s some real pacing issues here. All the conversations about books in the lawyer’s office aren’t there because they’re interesting. They’re there because this is maybe a 20 minute episode.

It doesn’t help that like “Dagger of the Mind” and “What are Little Girls Made Of?” this is a pretty much all-Kirk-all-the-time hour. He’s got no one to play off of and the few times where Spock or McCoy make an appearance, he usually doesn’t have enough time to work with them to do much of anything. Spock’s questioning at the trial is interesting enough, primarily because it’s always fun to watch the half-Vulcan outwit the more emotional humans, and I enjoy the idea that writers thought McCoy could be a womanizing badass. Now, this sort of trait would be played for laughs, but DeForest Kelley is just too goddamn suave for that shit.

I don't know why there's not more moments with the rest of the crew. Oh yeah, because we're really worried about Kirk.

In a twist that it’s impossible to not see coming, Spock realizes that the computer has been sabotaged and that someone is manipulating the memory in order to incriminate Kirk, and it once again doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that Finney is still on the Enterprise. So, it’s back to the ship for everyone and Kirk has to deal with a man who feels perpetually ruined by his captain. There’s a Shatner-esque fight, the ship is repaired, and justice is meted out. Time to jet out to another corner of the galaxy. It’s clean, but this is a series that hasn’t really left a lot of room for consequences that follow characters around.

Oh it's the computer... You really got me there.

On it’s own, “Court Martial” is merely a rote, predictable, boring hour of television, but Star Trek is capable of so much more. This is an episode that fails, mostly because the rest of the show has succeeded in a variety of different ways.

I generally read Zach Handlen’s write ups of “The Next Generation on avclub.com, and in one review, he mentioned how a mystery would have been considerably more interesting had one of the main characters not been the suspect. We have more of a reason to doubt a character that we don’t know that well or one that we don’t intrinsically like. “Court Martial” intends to have us doubt Kirk. We know it’s impossible that Kirk has committed the crime. He’s almost a Saturday morning cartoon character, physically incapable of doing anything even accidentally evil. We know someone is fucking with him from the start. When Spock says “it is impossible for Captain Kirk to act out of panic or malice. It is not his nature,” we believe him. He’s simply right, and the prosecutors are simply wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with absolutes on television about hard-and-fast ethics and morality, but in an episode about survival, doubt and trials, it’s nice to have a few shades of gray. Kirk being up for trial doesn’t allow any of that.

There’s little problems to that mostly stemmed from this episode being rewritten during filming. Finney’s daughter comes around to Kirk pretty quickly. The lawyer is crazy in one scene, a futuristic southern chicken, and an old man all in the space of a scene or two. There’s no scene of Finney saying what’s wrong with the Enterprise, just one of Kirk fixing the ship Scotty-style. It just adds to an episode that feels slapped together.

But this guy's a pretty awesome villain right? No? Fine...

All in all, “Court Martial” is a pretty shitty episode. It’s about as bad as “Mudd’s Women” but for totally different reasons. While “Mudd’s Women” is a thematic mess stuck in a mudhole of sexism, “Court Martial” sets up the simplest story, thinks that putting an invincible character in danger is dramatic, and cleans everything too perfectly for any sense of emotional connection. It’s bad in the way that whatever the Halmark Channel is showing right this moment is bad.

Random Notes

There’s a bunch of people missing here. Scotty is nowhere to be found. Sulu is missing, although he might be briefly in the video of the bridge that is shown at the trial. Mysteriously, there is a totally random Asian girl who shows up to deliver a couple lines at the trial and act like we know who she is.

“All of my friends look like doctors. All of his look like you.”

There’s a weird attempted message of being scared of your microwave/other machines, but it’s not explored in any interesting way. What a surprise.

There’s some really choppy editing in Cogley’s speech during the trial. It looks cheap as hell. In my defense, it gives me no pleasure to rip on this show like this.

Next up: “Return of the Archons” which I assume will feature the Protoss.

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